A History of the Ministry of Information, 1939-46

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This report describes certain feeding habits of selected groups of working-class people in Great Britain during February, 1943, and also presents a new method of measuring these habits. It is, to some extent, a repetition of a survey made in the summer of 1942 among the same groups of people. Both investigations were carried out at the request of the Ministry of Food.

The inquiry covered the following points:-

(1) The food items consumed during a typical day, and the extent to which the numbers who eat a certain food vary with age, occupation and season.

(2) The number of people who consider that the food they get is enough to keep them fit; and where food is considered insufficient, the items which are missed most.

(3) The number of people who eat meals outside their homes, and the proportion of those who go to canteens and British Restaurants; also their attitudes to these institutions.

The investigation was carried out by twenty-five interviewers, by means of a questionnaire (Appendix II).

The sample is a wholly industrial one. The places of interview were taken from lists of factories and other places of industry in different parts of Great Britain, supplied by the Ministry of Labour. (For the detailed sample, see Appendix I).

The average time taken for an interview was twenty minutes, though some took much longer. The investigators had been instructed to encourage informants to talk about their food problems freely, even if the information volunteered was outside the direct scope of the survey. From reports on such extra information, a number of local wishes and grievances emerged and were passed on to the Ministry of Food. In some cases the Ministry was able to take definite steps to remedy these.

An example of this type of case was that of the miners. Many miners were able to show that, due to their special working conditions, they could not profitably use their extra cheese allowance, but that extra milk and jam would be of great value to them.

In most cases, the interviews were carried out in the workshops during working hours. In a few industries (such as shipbuilding and mining) where the investigator could not enter the place of work, the informants were interviewed before and after shifts and during the lunch hour. Both managers and workers were most helpful, and we want to express here our gratitude for their co-operation, which alone made the survey possible.

The sample was a purposive one. The number of interviews to be made in each industrial group was decided in advance; the numbers in most groups being proportional to the numbers employed therein. In certain industrial groups, however, the number of interviews taken was greater than was justified by the numbers employed. Such overweighting was necessary in order to obtain information on the special habits of particular industries where the figures would otherwise have been too small; but wherever total figures are given in the report, the individual industrial samples are weighted according to their real proportions.

The results are presented in percentages and the number of interviews upon which they have been calculated are given at the base of each column. Wherever differences between two figures are considered to be significant, they are greater than three times the standard deviation.


In order to get an accurate picture of the food consumption of any particular group, it is necessary to make a detailed dietary survey, involving the weighing and measuring of the food consumed. Such surveys are carried out, but are slow and expensive, and often limited in their scope, being able only to give information about whole families, and the food consumed in the home.

It seemed desirable to develop a method which could be used as a yardstick, measuring roughly but quickly differences in food consumption due to environmental or population changes. The method used in this survey might therefore be used to obtain information on food intake in all cases where the individual intake of nutrients is not measured, but where information on the food intake of a whole group is required.

The method used was as follows:-

People were asked what items of food they had consumed during the previous day.

In order to establish what percentage of each group consumed each food item, it was necessary:-

(a) to prove experimentally that there were no significant differences between the foods consumed on different days. This was, in fact, found to be the case; i.e., if 32% of the textile workers took green vegetables on Mondays, a not significantly different percentage ate them on Friday. If 45% of clerical workers had vegetables on Monday, 43% had them on Friday. On Sunday, however, a greater number of people in all groups ate most of the foods. The figures for different groups were therefore comparable so long as care was taken to ensure that the correct proportion of Sunday interviews was included.

(b) to ensure the right technique of interviewing. It seemed doubtful whether everybody would remember without prompting what they had eaten the day before and it was decided first to ask the informants an open question on what they had had for each meal and only after the informants had mentioned all the items they could remember were they prompted (in the order of the Interviewer’s list).

The use of the same method and sample in both a winter and a summer survey, provided an objective control for validity. For example, it is known that much less milk was distributed last winter than during the previous summer; also that fewer vegetables can be used for salads in winter-time. The method, therefore, if reliable would bring out these points. This was in fact the case, as is shown by the following table:

Table 1
Summer 1942 Winter 1943
% %
Raw salads eaten by women working in industry 25 6
Milk taken 41 31
SAMPLE 1605 1517

One of the limitations of this method is that only relative food standards can be established. To obtain information as to the food intake of a group in terms of absolute food value, the best procedure would be to follow up a certain number of these food item interviews with a detailed dietary investigation.

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